Elizabeth Mwesigwa resides in Naguru, an outskirt located outside, Kampala City centre. However, from time to time, she loves visiting her parents who live within Naigobya in eastern Uganda.
It takes an individual about one hour by motorcycle from Iganga Town to Naigobya.
Her parents and some of her siblings stay in Naigobya. Mwesigwa is the first born. One Sunday afternoon, I found her in company of her father, Godfrey Kakaire. The duo were carrying out a sensitisation campaign in front of a crowd at one of the football fields in Naigobya. In attendance were elders and parents with their children who are living with disability.
“My father and I were interacting with community members seeking mutual solutions on how to best help different persons with disabilities, especially children,” she says, adding, “I would want to see these children growing up, accomplishing their dreams and goals despite their disabilities. That is why we were having these talks with different community members.”
Mwesigwa is passionate about matters regarding disability because she is a person living with disability.
Mwesigwa’s birth did not turn out normal.
“My mother says she gave birth to me this way,” she says, adding, “I use my knees to move around.”
She also has issues with her hands which do not stretch straight.
Mwesigwa’s siblings are all able-bodied. Despite her disability, Mwesigwa’s parents tried many times not to accord her special treatment as they wanted her to grow up like any other child. It is for this reason that she did house chores. Just like any other family members, she washed clothes and mopped.
When it came to her education, Mwesigwa was enrolled at Pride Academy in Iganga District.
She, however, reveals that life at school was tough.
“It was a hard life mostly because I was studying with able-bodied students. I was among the few with physical disabilities. Most pupils treated me like an outcast, and most times, other children did not want to either play with or talk to me,” she recalls.
The school was a day facility and most times, Mwesigwa crawled to get to the school. On some occasions, she was lucky to get a back ride from her mother.
While in Primary Four, Mwesigwa’s family bought her a wheelchair which she started using to aid her movement. In 2009, Mwesigwa completed Primary Seven.
Relocating to the city
One day, as Mwesigwa was enjoying her Primary Seven holidays, an aunt visited the family and sold them the idea of taking the girl to the city. There, according to her aunt, she would further her education. The family agreed to the idea. So, Mwesigwa tagged along to Kampala. However, she got shocked to learn that her aunt had a different motive.
“My aunt did not enroll me at any school, but rather, she told me to go to the streets and beg and thereafter take the money to her,” she says.
She declined the idea, something which made her aunt abandon her in the city. Mwesigwa was left by herself and rather than return to the village, she opted to find a way out.
With her little savings, she bought a few plastic household items such as cups, plates, and containers which she would vend door-to-door. Mwesigwa had a transparent polythene bag she would place her merchandise in and either place it on her back or simply carry then in her hands. She still moved on her knees.
“It was tough , especially when it came to crossing the road as some motorists were not that patient,” she says. Her biggest clients were from Ntinda Market.
“The traders there were compassionate to me. They always gave me extra money to sustain myself. In fact, one time, they collected about Shs300,000 amongst themselves and handed it over to me,” she recalls.
With some savings, she enroled at Naguru High School, Kampala but she dropped out in 2011 while in Senior Two, first term.
“I dropped out because I could no longer support myself to go to school,” she says.
Mwesigwa had to find other means of livelihood.
One day in 2012, she decided to go and stay in Rwanda after hearing random stories that life was at least better.
While embarking on her journey, Mwesigwa had saved some phone contacts of Ugandans living in Rwanda. She had got these contacts from some of her close Ugandan friends who had connections in Rwanda.
“Upon arrival, I first checked into a hotel before getting in touch with some of these Ugandans,” she recalls. With the help of her contacts, they got her a more affordable rental.
One day, she went to Nyabugogo bus terminal in Rwanda in search for work.
“I walked up to the owners of taxis and cars and requested to be one of their go-to people whenever they wanted their cars washed. They accepted and encouraged me to get peers that would help me out. I managed to get three others and we worked,” she says.
Initiation into sports
Then in 2013, she bumped into someone who sold her the idea of participating in wheelchair basketball.
“He told me to go and check out one of the games that was happening inKigali,” she says.
Later that afternoon, Mwesigwa went and was fascinated by seeing other persons with disabilities taking part in the sport.
“I was moved to tears seeing individuals in my state on wheelchairs competing in sports,” she recalls.
It was from that day that Mwesigwa fell in love with sports. In fact, she requested to be trained during her free time before eventually being taken up as a participant.
Towards the end of 2013, she returned to Kampala, and, decided to join different groups that were locally organising wheelchair basket-ball tournaments.
“We always had opportunities to travel from one place to another participating in different local tournaments,” she says.
Then in 2015, Mwesigwa chanced upon a one-week training session for para-badminton (badminton for persons with disabilities) organised by Richard Morris, a coach from England.
“I attended the training with other persons living with disability, and, I remember Richard encouraging us to try out badminton because it would boost our endurance, speed and strength,” she says.
Mwesigwa tried her hand at para-badminton.
She got in touch with three coaches who helped improve her badminton skills. And one of these coaches is Mark Ssekyondwa who says he decided to train Mwesigwa because she was willing to do whatever it took to learn the sport.
“I was stunned by how determined she was to learn the game, and, that is why I opted to train her,” Ssekyondwa says.
Mwesigwa trained throughout 2015 and 2016. Then in 2017, she participated in her first tournament at the Uganda Para-badminton International where 10 countries participated in the tournament. The team that represented Uganda, which Mwesigwa was part of, won a gold medal.
During the same Uganda Para-badminton
Tournament, held in 2018, she participated and walked away with gold, silver and bronze medals. Outside Uganda, she competed at the Dubai Paralympic championships in 2018 and walked away with a bronze medal.
She is warming up for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic games taking place later this year from August to September. And she will only go if she finds the money to facilitate her travel. Mwesigwa now focusses more on competing at para-badminton tournaments and no longer finds time to play wheelchair basketball.
Her view of Uganda sports
Ever since she ventured into playing para-badminton, Mwesigwa and other paralympic participants have been offered opportunities to participate in international tournaments.
“My colleagues and I hardly go for the competitions because we have no funds. In fact, many times, I have managed to go and compete internationally after soliciting funds from good Samaritans and well-wishes,” she says.
Some of the
wishers who have previously facilitated her include Rebecca Kadaga (the Speaker of Parliament), Hamis Kiggundu, a businessman, Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services for People with Disability in Uganda (CoRSU) administration, and Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC).